Bret Hart, Razor Ramon & The Letdown of The 2017 Royal Rumble
Sunday night I went to my buddy's place to watch the Royal Rumble. His man cave is full of a diverse range of sports and entertainment memorabilia: Pittsburgh Penguins headlines, Jacksonville Jaguars autographs, Aerosmith albums, 8x10s of wrestling luminaries, his kids' "Clifford The Big Red Dog" toys, even a picture of actor Ed O'Neill as Al Bundy dawns these hallowed halls Be as random and as eclectic as his interests range, everything was there for a purpose and told the story of my friend Lee.
The 2017 Royal Rumble painted no such clear picture for most of it's wrestlers or fanbase. My friends and I sat there, scratching our heads as to why no new stars were established, why there were no surprise entrants (either of the novel or the impact fashion) and why the stale status quo still remained at the forefront of Vince's mind when it comes to the title picture.
After at least four years of unfavorable Rumble winners, and this being hyped as the "Biggest Royal Rumble in history", you'd think Vince would have finally bent and given it's biggest demographic what it would have wanted out of three possible outcomes: (1) a fresh face pointing towards that WrestleMania sign, (2) a fan favorite of the Jericho or Zayn nature pointing to that WrestleMania sign or (3) settling for a hot veteran like Undertaker or Goldberg to point at that stinkin' WrestleMania sign.
Instead we got Randy Orton. A star no doubt and an excellent talent, but what images are still ringing in ardent fans’ minds are of a man who during his last title reign, played subservient champion to The Authority, a man who was unceremoniously smashed like an orange by an unstoppable Lesnar without appropriate follow-up, and a man who for the past several months has been part of an upper-mid card storyline that has had no clear distinction of motive or purpose.
The 2017 Royal Rumble winner will not be hallowing the halls of my buddy Lee’s man cave.
And in thanks to Lee’s idea of watching "The Scott Hall Story" extras on Blu-Ray afterwards, nor will that Cena and AJ Styles match-up, specifically due to Hall's main event showdown with Bret Hart at the 1993 Royal Rumble.
And that’s not because the Styles/Cena match wasn't good (it was great from a workrate standpoint), but the 1993 WWE Title face-off between Bret and Razor had more of the wrestling basics for it's foundation: a clear distinction on who (and who not) to root for, a simple story told throughout the match that appropriately played to the two's short, but contentious feud (in addition to the footnote of Razor's long legs not being fit for a Sharpshooter) and something that has been long forgotten in today's WWE, the right way to use the "false finish"
The Bret and Razor match-up had several false finishes, but none included the excellent execution of a Sharpshooter or the impactful slam of a Razor's Edge. Yes, we had some teases with Hall escaping Bret's Hitman clutches with a well-timed ref pull and Bret squirming out of Edge to turn it into a backslide pin attempt. Nothing abused the finality of a finishing maneuver, or even (get this) the landing of a top rope suplex or forearm smash - both couldn't and didn't land anything from above the three ropes throughout their 17 minutes. Just the pure simplicity of Bret working the leg or Razor showing off his villainous machismo was enough to further the basic storytelling. (Throwing a toothpick at a little kid is pretty much the ultimate heel move.) A true conclusion only happened when Bret proved the doubting Heenan on commentary wrong by impressively turning a sunset flip pin attempt into his patented submission for a thrillingly spontaneous finish. PWTorch rated it three and a quarter stars.
“Man cave material”.
But what did we get with the Cena Styles showdown? We saw top rope Attitude Adjustments exploited and Styles Clashes only good enough for the count of two. Sure, this has been WWE's MO for over a decade now, but the prevalence and abuse of these impressive high spots makes every big-time move or action forgettable - bleeding them together with the rest of an over-saturated product. There's also, not to mention, the built-in fan expectation of the two topping their previous bouts, laying out an almost impossible mission to accomplish.
As I packed up to leave Lee’s place Monday morning, he jokingly asked if I wanted to keep our Royal Rumble poll from last night, which included the list of entries and whose $5 was riding on that entrant. I thought about it: the brass knuckles, the countless finishers performed, the clean pinning of a top female babyface, the number 30.
But then thought against it.
Not “man-cave material”.